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Reading stories over the past few days about the problems of digging out from this week’s Snowmaggedon awoke a long-slumbering ganglian in my brain with this imprinted on it.  (Question: Given what Cookie Monster is hauling, do the Nanny McBedwe’er types even allow this old sketch to run anymore?)

Last evening, as a result of my recent outburst of French and Indian War enthusiasm (all together now:  Grooooaaann!!), I popped in the Daniel Day-Lewis version of Last of the Mohicans.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever discussed here, over the decanter and the Stilton, the contortions through which this adaptation puts the original novel.  Among other things, the wrong Munro daughter dies – in the novel it’s Cora, not Alice.  Also, Major Hayward, who is not a stuck-up twit, is engaged to Alice, not Cora, and in the end plays a large part in her rescue (without getting killed himself).  And Cora has the hots for Uncus, not Hawkeye.  The list goes on.

But you know what? I never let all that bother me.  Well, hardly ever.  I rationalized this by reminding myself that Fenimore Cooper was such a pretentious gas-bag that he probably deserves to be cannibalized.

No, what got me was a couple of things about the Massacre at Fort William Henry, around which the tale centers.  For those of you who can’t quite remember, Fort William Henry was a log fort at the southern end of Lake George in upstate New York.  In the summah of 1757, it was held by about 2500 British troops and Colonial militia under Col. Edward Munro (played here by Port-Swiller favorite Sar’n James).   The fort was besieged by 6000 or so French troops plus about 1800 Indians commanded by Montcalm, who, with his heavy artillery, quickly subdued the place. 

Under the terms of the surrender, Munro was allowed to march out with flags flying and his men under arms, making for Fort Edward, about a dozen miles away.  (The soldiers were not to fight for the next 18 months.)  He was also to take what camp-followers, including women and children, who could make it.  The English were to have no ammunition, but were to be escorted by a French guard.  (By the bye, one of the things I love about this period is the military etiquette.)

Munro’s column hadn’t got far along the road when the Indians, enraged at the idea and also fresh from wiping out all the sick and wounded left behind in the fort, began to attack, mostly going for the women and children, but also hitting stragglers from the main columns of soldiers.  Munro and his officers protested and pleaded to the French to intervene, but many of the French simply put their hands in their pockets and did nothing.   How many were killed or kidnapped in the massacre is the subject of a great deal of on-going debate, but probably runs in the hundreds.  Munro and the main body eventually made it to Fort Edward, and fugitives trickled in for several days thereafter.

Aaaaaanyway, I have three main beefs with the way all this is portrayed in the movie.  First is the murder of Col. Munro himself by Magwa, the villainous Huron.  In the first place, as noted, Col. Munro survived the massacre in reality (he also survived in the novel), although he died suddenly a couple months later.  Second, the movie suggests that his entire column was destroyed.  Again, this is not true – the majority eventually made it to safety.  (Whether they felt compelled to honor their parole after this treachery, I don’t know, but I would doubt it.)  Thirdly, the moovie makes quite clear that Montcalm pre-arranged the massacre with the Indians.  From my further readings about him, I believe this to be a complete fabrication and that Montcalm would not stoop to that kind of thing.  The evidence is that the attack was fairly spontaneous.  And while there are numerous eyewitness accounts of French soldiers refusing to intervene, indeed that in some cases they practically held the Indians’ hats and cheered them on, Montcalm himself seems to have done what he could to protect the English.  Unfortunately, once the Indians’ blood-lust was up, this didn’t amount to very much in practice.

But other than that, I actually enjoyed the moovie this time, especially its feel and attention to period detail.  Plus, the scenery was great (although I believe it was actually filmed in the Blue Ridge south of Roanoke, and not in New Yawk.)


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February 2011